Africa > East African Islands > Réunion
|Population||861.2 thousand (2019)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Type E)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Réunion (French: La Réunion) is a French overseas department located in the midst of the Indian Ocean, east of the island of Madagascar and 200 km to the south-west of Mauritius, in East Africa. This enchanting destination is blessed with a tropical climate and beautiful volcanic landscapes, with its appeal being as much due to its white sandy beaches as its mountain scenery. Réunion used to be known as the Isle de Bourbon and Isle Bonaparte.
- 1 Saint-Denis — the capital of Reunion island
- 2 Saint-Gilles — on the west coast, where all the white sand beaches are
- 3 Saint-Leu — a well-established city and surfing destination
- 4 Saint-Pierre — the second most important town of Reunion Island.
- 5 Etang-Salé — a small town on the west coast with one of the black volcanic sand beaches
- 6 Saint-Benoît — where you can find the vanilla cooperative factory
- 1 Cilaos
- 2 Salazie
- 3 Mafate
- 4 Takamaka — location of the only water power plant of the island
- 5 Plaine de Cafres
- 6 Réunion National Park
The island's climate is tropical. The time from September to mid-December is the best time to go, since rain is uncommon then, and temperatures are mild on the beaches as well as in the hills, so you can both hike in the mountains and enjoy the seashore without issues of humidity or heat.
January to March is the rainy season, sometimes marked by cyclones. The island has two climatic zones: the greener windward side (east) that receives moist Indian ocean air, and the noticeably drier leeward side (west) shielded from the wet air by the mountainous landscape.
The Portuguese discovered the uninhabited island in 1513. Réunion became officially French territory in 1663. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, French immigration supplemented by influxes of Africans, Chinese, Malays, and Malabar Indians gave the island its ethnic mix. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 cost the island its importance as a stopover on the East Indies trade route. It remained a colony until 1946, when it became a département of the French Republic.
Locals take great pride in marking the anniversary of the abolition of slavery (which happened on 20 December 1848), in a festival known locally as "La Fête Cafre" (a "cafre" being the name given to an indigenous dweller of the island, now widely used to address a friend). This gesture towards the past is still very much present in society today, and as such the word "slave" ("esclave") is a grave insult to a Réunionnais.
Today, the population of Reunion is widely varied in terms of ethnic origin, which each group inheriting its respective traditions.
French is the official language of Réunion, although Creole is widely spoken. Everyone understands French, as it is the language of education, but few people understand English.
French spoken with the local Reunion accent, intermingled with Creole, can be difficult to understand for native French speakers. Metropolitan French are locally nicknamed zoreilles ("ears") for their tendency not to understand and ask people to repeat.
English speakers meet every Monday evening between 19:30 and 23:00 (including during holidays) at the Moda Bar, 75 rue Pasteur, in Saint-Denis. Infoline 0692 560220. If you speak English, it is a good way of sharing ones accent, culture and language to meet travelling and resident couch-surfers. Ten to twenty people attend each week. The bar allows people to bring take out food.
See also: French/Creole dictionary
Passport and visa
Although Reunion is an integral part of France, it is not part of the Schengen area, so it has its own immigration and visa rules. Citizens of Mauritius, for example, do not need a visa for short visits to Reunion but do need a visa to visit mainland France.
The main airport is Roland Garros International Airport, near Saint-Denis (RUN IATA). The vast majority of intercontinental flights arriving at Reunion come from mainland France, with a handful of other airports through the Indian Ocean. Airlines flying to Reunion are the following:
- Air France operates direct flights between Paris Orly and Roland Garros.
- Air Austral is the principal local airline, which serves numerous destinations in Africa and the Indian Ocean (South Africa, Comoros, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mayotte and the Seychelles), as well as Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. Air Austral also offers transfers onto the TGV-Air service for various destinations within France, and the Thalys line from Paris towards Brussels. If coming from Asia, there exists a seasonal service from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport.
- Air Madagascar flies from Roland Garros to Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Nosy Be. Air Madagascar stops in at Roland Garros on its twice-weekly Antananarivo to Guangzhou, China, but does not have traffic rights to carry passengers between Saint-Denis and Guangzhou.
- Corsair offers a weekly service to Paris Orly, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse.
- Air Mauritius has multiple daily flights to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Airport, Port Louis, Mauritius. The trip is 45 minutes.
- French Blue offers service to Paris-Orly.
For travelers from North America, travel direct to Reunion can be very expensive (well over US$2000 in economy and booked months in advance!) due to a lack of competition and lack of codesharing agreements with Air Austral at Paris-CDG. The most affordable way to travel from North America to Reunion is to book a flight to Mauritius, then book a separate flight for about US$180-300 round-trip between Mauritius and Reunion, which are less than an hour apart by air. Mauritius is served by several major carriers, such as British Airways, Emirates, South African Airways, Turkish Airways, Air France (to Paris-CDG, rather than Paris-Orly), KLM (seasonal), Lufthansa (seasonal), and Austrian (seasonal), so fares are competitive at about US$1200-1800 and can involve shorter layovers.
The small Pierrefonds Airport on the southwest side of the island near Saint-Pierre has daily flights to Mauritius on Air Austral and Air Mauritius, plus a seasonal Air Austral flight to Rodrigues.
- From Reunion, it is possible to reach Mauritius and Madagascar by boat. Two ferry services offer these routes, the Mauritius Pride and the Mauritius Trochetia. They are at 4, avenue du 14-Juillet 1789, 97420, Le Port, telephone: ☏ .
- Throughout the year, a number of cruise liners dock on the island. More information should be sought through individual cruise companies.
It is often said that Réunion has more than its fair share of cars, and it's true. At certain times, the road networks can become jam-packed with vehicles, but in order to overcome this, all a visitor needs to know is when to travel and how to travel. The national road (route nationale) which goes round the island is double-laned for each direction in many places. Other roads are usually paved, with one lane in each direction. There have been plans to build a railway to alleviate the traffic congestion, but as of 2018 those plans have been shelved.
Hailing a taxi on the island is fairly expensive, especially when leaving the airport (expect to pay €15).
Intercity bus travel around the island is served by Car Jaune ("Yellow Bus", buses are easily recognisable by their yellow colour). There are 13 lines. Apart from these buses there are also local buses. Most of lines operate between 06:00 and 18:00.
- Car Jaune, Ligne B, from Saint-Denis to Saint-Pierre and back, Par les Bas (via the coast). Operates approximately every 1½ hours.
- Main article: Driving in Réunion
There is one main road around the island (74 km of it is four-lane) and another road from Saint-Pierre to Saint-Benoit (route des plaines) through the interior of the island.
Due to the volume of cars, traffic jams often occur so you should avoid travelling during peak times.
Because of the volcano, the road is sometimes closed along the east side of the island.
The four-lane highway between La Possession and Saint-Denis, known as the route du littoral, runs between an unstable cliff and the sea. Because of the rain (mostly between December and March), this highway may be "basculée", that is switched to a two-lane road. Expect traffic jams in such circumstances. It is being replaced by a remarkable €1.7-billion, 5.4-km viaduct a few hundred metres off shore that is planned to open in 2020.
The Route des Tamarins is an expressway linking Saint-Paul and Étang-Salé offering spectacular views of the coast. With its completion, a 4-lane divided highway now runs around three-fourths of the island.
Do not underestimate driving times, even if the island seems small. The main roads, especially on the west coast, tend to jam; so do the streets of Saint Denis. The roads in the interior are mountain roads, some with many turns and steep slopes.
Car hire is available.
Reunion Island has almost 1000 km of hiking trails, with an astonishing variety of landscapes for an island. The cirques, plains and volcano have been classified as a french national natural park. The best hikes are probably in the Mafate cirque and on the volcano (see Piton de la Fournaise). The exceptional Mafate circus has no roads, and about 800 inhabitants.
You can find hostings on main hiking places.
Some helicopter and airplane companies do scenic flights. These depart very early in the morning (in order to avoid clouds and fog at altitude). There are also some helicopter trips, e.g. to La Nouvelle in Mafate.
The active volcano is located in the south of the island. Even the approach over the Plaine de Sable (sand plain) offers many visual highlights. Directly below the rim of the crater there is a parking lot with a magnificent view. From a safe distance, hikers can watch the activity of Mount Fire. Guided hikes to the best vantage points are offered on site by various agencies. Tours at sunset are particularly fascinating, since then the lava flows can be seen particularly well in the dark. You should not do these tours without a local guide, as the signposts of these 4-5 hour hikes are sometimes very difficult to see. But even when the volcano is not active, hikes of various lengths along the rim of the crater or the descent into the crater floor offer fascinating views. For the descent, however, you should have a head for heights, as the path winds very narrowly in zigzags towards the ground. Once at the bottom you can admire the mini cone "Leo Formica" and walk up to the "Church" (a colorful fault). If you have time and stamina, you can also climb the highest point of the actual volcano, and from there you have a magnificent panoramic view over the various lava flows to the sea. However, this should only be done when the weather is good and there is no volcanic activity (be sure to inquire at the information stand in the parking lot!). The weather changes very quickly and within an hour clouds can gather so thick that you can hardly find your way back. On the way back, make a stop at the "Maison du Volcan" (House of the Volcano) which has some fascinating video images of the last major eruptions.
Reunion is very much an island to be discovered through exploring its mountainous scenery and outdoor activities. The typical landforms of Réunion "Pitons, Cirques and Remparts of Reunion Island", have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and the world heritage covers more than 40% of the island.
- Main article: Hiking in Réunion
Réunion has some very scenic well-developed hiking areas, and it is filled with numerous hiking stages and multi-day routes in different routes. The particularly interesting part is the rugged volcanic interior of the island with the two volcanic peaks and the three crater basins.
There is also good diving off the coast of Reunion.
Exchange rates for euros
As of Jan 2022:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Reunion is part of the Eurozone, so as in many other European Union countries the currency used is the euro (symbol: €).
It is compulsory, for the large majority of businesses, to post prices in windows. Hotels and restaurants must have their rates visible from outside.
Most shops accept international credit cards (Visa and Mastercard) but most of them require a minimum amount for credit cards payments (usually €15).
There is a good number of ATMs (called "gabier") which don't charge you for using them.
Most shops are closed on Sunday.
Most of supermarkets are open M-Sa from 09:00 to 20:00. Some of them are open on Sunday morning.
You can find traditional objects in some shops but it's often easier and cheaper to go to a market (marché). The market in Saint-Paul is famous and you'll also find fruits and vegetables: it gathers on Friday morning and afternoon and on Saturday morning.
It's a good place to buy African traditional objects, such as Oware .
Here are some ideas for gifts:
- local music;
- book or dvd about volcano's last eruption
Eat and drink
Thanks to its history, Reunionese cuisine is a mix between different cultures: French, Indian, Chinese & African
Typical dishes are cari and rougail which are a meat or a fish cooked in a sauce and eaten with rice.
Depending on the season, many tropical fruits are available, like lychees (December), mangoes, pineapples (the Victoria types in Reunion are said to be the best in the world by the locals), bananas, papaya...
At lunchtime, you can have many kinds of sandwiches and samosas in snack-bars (cheap but not very balanced, except for the spicy "achards sandwich"), and find restaurants easily (average of USD10-15). Other local specialties are bonbons piments, which are spiced and salted fritters, piments farcis, which are stuffed hot peppers, and bouchons, which are morsels of meat or fish that are surrounded by rice paste and steamed before being served with soy sauce.
Réunionnais pastries are often quite thick and sweet. There are pastries made from sweet potatoes (gâteaux patates) and (for a bit of an adventure) manioc (gâteaux manioc)
Reunionese cuisine is quite safe, but ask for some dishes to ensure that they're not too spicy. The spice level is below that of much Indian cuisine.
The main local drink is rum. The lowest quality rum is made from fermented cane sugar molasses and is not aged (thus its color is clear). It is often drunk as rhum arrangé - rum flavored by fruit and spices. Rhum arrangé, being fruity and sugary, is easy to drink but beware of the high alcohol content! Higher quality rum is rhum agricole, made from fermented cane sugar juice. It is either clear, or aged in oak barrels, giving it a brown colour.
If you are looking for the most famous places, you will find them in Saint-Gilles-les-Bains on the west coast and in Saint-Pierre in the South. These are seaside resorts with many nightclubs and many trendy bars where you will have no trouble attending a Mayola show, or dancing the Sega. On St Denis, the pedestrian area laid out around the cathedral offers many restaurants and lively bars. On Sunday evening from 18:00, the "rondavelles" by the sea offer free concerts, enough to end the week well around a cocktail or a local beer, around local "tapas": pepper candies, samosas, corks and other local spring rolls.
The traditional "wine of Cilaos" is a very sweet, quite rustic cooked wine. You will easily find some in the Cirque de Cilaos and along the roads, but not in supermarkets: the legality of this trade is debatable, but the gendarmes allow this tradition to continue.
Since 2004, the "Chais de Cilaos" have been selling modern wines (three local wines and one table wine): sweet white, dry white, rosé and red. The cellars can be visited. Fans will go to Cilaos on the occasion of the lentil festival in November or for Saint-Vincent in February. You can buy some at the Cilaos tourist office.
There are many possible accommodation types in reunion: Ordinary hotels; privately run Gîtes d'Étape; Gîtes de Montagne are mountain cabins or lodges located in the central areas appropriate and operated by Reunion Island Tourism Board; youth hostels are operated by Auberge de jeunesse de la Réunion. There are five youth hostels at Réunion Island ; Hell Bourg, Bernica, Entre Deux, Saint Denis and Cilaos.
For European people coming from an EU country, working in Reunion is allowed without a visa or work permit. If you're from outside the EU, you will probably need a work permit. Check with the French Embassy in your country. Do not forget, though, that the unemployment rate is high. If you work in the health sector (doctor, nurse), it will be much easier.
From time to time the island experiences volcanic activity. However, this is nothing to worry about; the lava flows are fluid and slow moving, and they always go by the less-inhabited Southern part of the island. Alerts are always sent out, and authorities block roads that are covered by lava.
The season when cyclones generally occur is the Southern hemisphere's summer, from October to April. However, alerts are sent out by radio, and it's very hard to not hear about it. Should a cyclone occur during your visit, stay indoors during it.
Reunion is fairly safe - even safer than much of metropolitan France. Take common-sense precautions such as:
- Don't walk around alone at night
- Don't flaunt expensive cameras or jewellery
- Don't resist in case of aggression
Most crimes are family-related and alcohol-related
The major attraction of Reunion is the stunning scenery, with impressive walks on cliffs and, obviously, the volcano. In some high altitude areas, especially the volcano, mid-day fog may really hamper orientation; also, temperatures may drop significantly. In foggy weather, do not stray from well-marked paths. Carry layered clothing.
Unlike most tropical islands, Réunion hasn't had issues with malaria or infectious tropical disease for several decades. Travelers should still take precautions against mosquito bites; in 2005-6 the island had an outbreak of Chikungunya virus spread by tiger mosquitoes.
Caution should be taken when spending time in the sun. High altitude areas may be scorchingly hot when the sun is high, and cold when it is foggy. You might not notice the sensation of sunburn forming if it's chilly out, so don't hesitate to cover up with light clothing even in the heat. It's advisable to bring your own sunscreen, as it's somewhat expensive on the island.
Sanitary and medical facilities in Reunion are very good.
As in the rest of France, French and EU residents get most of their health care costs covered by the compulsory health insurance plan (sécurité sociale). This plan does not cover nonresidents, who will be expected to pay full price. A travel health insurance is thus advised. Full price costs are significantly lower than in the United States.
Visitors from European Union should bring an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) - obtained in their own country before departure. The E111 form is no longer valid. Ask for details at your local health care organisation.
The major hospital is in Saint-Denis but there are various others in important cities. There are doctors in almost every village.
Tap water is usually safe for consumption. Public sources of water are unsafe if labeled with "Eau non potable" (Water not drinkable).
Emergency phone numbers
- emergency services: 112 (which can be dialled by any mobile phone, even if not connected to a GSM network);
- fire brigade: 18;
- police station: 17;
- specialised emergency medical service (called SAMU): 15.
During the cyclonic season (November to April), you should check cyclone warnings shown in newspapers or broadcast by the radio or TV. There are three states of warning:
- Vigilance cyclonique (cyclone watch): risk of cyclones in more than 24 hours, you should buy in advance enough food and water as well as batteries and candles;
- Alerte orange (orange alert): risk of a cyclone in the next 24 hours, schools are closed, try to avoid getting around;
- Alerte rouge (red alert): risk of a cyclone in the next few hours, don't move from your home and avoid using the phone, stay calm.
Réunionnais people have a sense of nationalistic pride that may seem a little unusual or unexpected. It's an island phenomenon that's difficult to explain to people from the mainland. However much someone shouts about the island's superiority from the rooftops, don't be concerned about xenophobia.
Country code: 262
Dialing within Reunion: all numbers have 10 digits. Landlines begin by 0262 and mobile phones by 0692 and with 0693.
Dialing to Reunion: international prefix + 262 + phone number without the first 0 (this leads to dial twice 262 which is normal). If you dial from mainland France, just use the 10-digit number.
Dialing from Reunion: the international prefix is 00.
Calling to a mobile phone is more expensive than to a landline. Number beginning by 0800 are free phone. Number beginning by 089 are premium-rate.
When the new EU roaming regulations came into force, more EU-based mobile providers started offering roaming in Reunion. Many of them even treat Reunion the same as roaming in mainland France, so you can use your plan with no additional charge. Few out-of-EU mobile phone companies offer international roaming to Reunion, however, so double-check with your provider about availability and pricing before leaving. Your company should specifically state that they offer roaming to Reunion (or include it in their EU roaming allowances) since it has different mobile phone companies from mainland France (and as an outermost region of the EU, EU providers are not required to include it in their roaming allowances). If you have service from a provider in mainland France, specifically check that your plan covers the "DOM" (overseas departments).
Alternatively, you should be able to get a Pay-as-you-go SIM card from various locations. There are three companies offering wireless services: SFR (SRR), Orange Réunion, and Free Réunion. As in mainland France, Free is the cheapest offer by far, at €9.99 a month for 50 GB and unlimited talk and text locally, to mainland France, and to landlines across Europe.
Post offices are found in all cities. Post boxes are bright yellow.
Less than 20g (postcard, letter with one or two pages in a regular envelope):
- France (including Overseas Territories DOM-TOM) and Europe: €0.53
- Area 1 (South Africa, Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Tanzania): €0.75
- Area 2 (rest of the world) : €1.05
The basic stamp for regular mail is red with the head of "Marianne" (the Republic logo). It does not state its euro value and can therefore be used even after a price increase. It is sold in all Post Offices, Bureaux de Tabacs (Tobacco sellers identified by a red lozenge) and postcard vendors. The latter may also carry other common stamps.
In most Post Offices you will find an automatic machine (yellow) with a scale and a screen. Just put your mail on the scale, tell the machine (French or English) the destination, pay the indicated amount and the machine will deliver a printed stamp.
Chronopost, UPS and DHL offer parcel services.